Transcribed by Rae Wayne
July 14, 1949
* CAL’S COLUMN *
This is being written for Friday, July 8, 1949. The editor was born on July 8, 1891, a hot Wednesday morning about sunrise. So we are 58 years old today. We were born at the foot of Mace’s Hill three miles east of Dixon Springs, in Smith County, and about the same distance from Pleasant Shade. Our father, Thomas Morgan Gregory, and our mother, Marietta Ballou, were married on October 7, 1890, with Elder Luther Smith, a Baptist minister, officiating. They resided for the next six months with our father’s parents, Stephen Calvin and Sina Gregory, on the upper part of Nickojack Branch, just across Mace’s Hill from where we were born. Shortly after our parents were married, they bought a tract of about 50 acres of land from J.S. Winkler, lying on the extreme upper part of the Young Branch, and now occupied by Luther Gregory and family, he being our first cousin. On this tract at the time our father bought it, were a number of large poplar trees. Park of these our father cut down with an axe, with which he was the most proficient man we have ever known. If our memory serves us aright and we feel that it does, he also cut the trees into saw logs with the same axe. Saws were then scarce and hardly anybody owned one. In cutting a saw log with an axe, one had to cut the tree in twain twice in reality. The first time left one part of the tree with a sloping end and the other, or the part cut off, with a fairly even end. Then the sloping end had to be chopped off. Such was the slow and tedious method by which one cut saw logs 58 or 59 years ago, unless he was one of the fortunate ones who had a crosscut saw. These trees cut by our father were yellow poplar for the most part, although part of them were commonly called “blue” poplars, which were almost as tough as beech timber. It might be remarked here that some of the trees chopped down by our father were five feet in diameter and part of the old stumps are still standing after nearly 60 years.
These saw logs cut so laboriously were hauled to Jerry Shaw’s saw mill just below Dixon Springs, and there cut into rough lumber, studs, sleepers, joists, rafters, and lathing. Also part of them were cut into wide planks which our father planed by hand, as well as to cut the tongue and grove in the same manner. With some help, he began building the house early in 1891. The walls were of hand-dressed poplar lumber, the roof of boards, and the chimney of brick and builded by John Dillehay. The house had two rooms 16 feet square, with an eight foot hall between. The main or family room was ceiled, but the part used for a kitchen was left unceiled for many years.
Into this house our father and mother moved in the spring of 1891 and here we were born a few weeks later, the first of ten children, seven girls and three boys, all born in this little house. Our father was an expert in many respects, being the ablest handler of an axe in that section. He was also very proficient with the old long, muzzle-loading rifle, and was the champion shot of all that section. It was he who shot most of the hogs killed at butchering time, it being quite common for him to shoot a hog dead in his tracks a distance of 50 to 75 yards. He said it was a disgrace to make a hog “squeal” when he was shot. With this long rifle, he used t hunt through the forests frequently, almost invariably shooting all the squirrels he killed throug the head. On various occasions, he shot two squirrels dead with only one bullet. Our good friend, Albert Piper, of Gallatin, relates that he was hunting with our fathe in 1899, and that our father had found the nest of a large hawk on the big hill near which Ed Wmith now lives on Scanty Branch. Here the boy and the man waited for the old hawk to return, but she was a wise old bird and discovered th man and the youth and refused to light on her nest. Albert says that our father waited and waited for the old hawk to come to the nest. At last growing disgusted, he brought the trusty old rifle to his shoulder, took aim at the flying bird and brought her down on the wing, which is a very unusual thing for one to do with a rifle.
We have seen him shoot many rabbits as they ran, also squirrels running through the trees. He was the best shot we ever saw with the old muzzle-loader. He was also the closest observer we ever knew. Although unable to read or write until he was 21 years of age, he knew the book of nature as no other man we have ever known. He was acquainted with all the ways of the wild life around him, refusing to shoot an old mother squirrel with young. Once we saw him lower his rifle and refuse to fire at a squirrel that was in easy range of his gun. His son said: “Pap, why did you not shoot that squirrel?” His answer has come down to us over a half century of time. “She had young ones.” He then explained how he knew that she was a mother squirrel with young. He had a name for every animal and bird in the forest, for every insect and bug, for every tree and plant. Perhaps some of these names were not their “book names” but he called them as he had learned them. We recall that he used to call a certain bush a “heaven bush.” We supposed this was jyst a sort of homemade name; but later we learned that he was correct, for the tree or bush he had named for us was the ailanthus, or tree of heaven.
He would have no doubt been a scout of earlier pioneer days had he then lived. We have sometimes felt that our dear father lived too late, that he belonged to that self-reliant active, strong, resourceful group of pioneers who braved the wilds of Tennessee 165 to 175 years ago. Weather-wise, he seldom made a mistake in predictions of coming weather conditions.
It has been stated that he did not know how to read or write until he was 21 years of age. He attended school only a short time, getting over in the old “Blue-Backed Speller” as far as the word “baker.” He was one of ten children and his father was a hard-working, poor man and his children were almost compelled to work that they might live. When our father was 21 years of age, he had to sign a paper at Carthage the county seat of his county. He had to put his finger on top of a pen while making “His mark.” This so mortified our father that he went home resolved to learning to read and write. He soon accomplished this and became a fair reader, although he was prone to call some words in a rather unusual and incorrect way. We recall that he never did call the word, “cyclone” correctly, always calling it “sow coon.” This might have been done by him on purpose, but this is what he called the word. He always called onions, “ingerns,” relics, “rullux,” diapers, “clouts,” and a lot of other words might be mentioned. We have sometimes wondered about a lot of his vocabulary, just how and where he got some of his words that he used. However, he was descended directly from the Gregorys of Scotland and had kept a lot of the peculiarities of his forbears. We still have some of his writing and the penmanship is fairly good, somewhat like the old copy books of 60 or 70 years ago. As to his reading, he liked to read aloud and when he came to a word he could not call, he gave it a pronounciation all his own and left it that way. We recall that he never could call Democracy, hypocrisy, theocrasy and words of similar ending correctly.
He was 29years our senior and to us he was the wisest, the strongest, the most wonderful, the finest daddy in the world. After we had gotten a little knowledge of arithmetic, we taught our father to add, subtract, and to multiply; but he balked on division and never did learn it.
We shall refer to him perhaps many times in this column, but for the present, we diagress. We were born on July 8, 1891. On October 1, 1892, our brother, Thomas Morgan Gregory, was born, there being a difference in our ages of only 14 months and three weeks. Our mother used to tell us that we were were weaned at the age of six months, and that within a short time, we could eat a whole chicken. We have never yet lost our craving for chicken, although more than 57 years have passed since we were “initiated” into the art of chicken earing. Our mother was a small woman, never weighing more than 100 pounds. Our father used to say that she had never reached “Hag’s weight”, whatever that was. She had a fair education for that day and time, was a great reader and had the most remarkable memory of any woman we have ever known. She was the information bureau of our section for dates, etc. She was a good speller, a great talker, and enjoyed the association and companionship of friends. She had her peculiarities also and we have inherited many of them. She delighted in recalling events of long, long ago, in keeping track of history, in recording events of which she had been informed, and many, many others. While our father knew nature as no other person we ever knew, our mother was almost wholly without knowledge of such matters. She was what might be called a bookworm. Our father used to “josh” her a great deal about her inability to do a lot of things. One was her inability to drive a nail. He said to her many times: “You could not drive a nail into a pumpkin.” She had scarcely any knowledge of mechanical matters, although she was proficient in the use of a sewing machine; but this was almost the limit of her mechanical ability.
She had no ability to make repairs, or to correct any mechanical tangle. On their wedding day, as they traveled horseback on a road that was strange to our mother, she saw in the distance what she took to be buzzards in a linden tree right over the road. She was reluctant to ride under that tree until our father finally convinced her that she had not seen a buzzard, but that what she thought to be vultures were some odd shaped and unusual ends of limbs that had developed into large, rough knots. We have seen the tree many times and our dad used to chuckle as he told us how that our “mammy” was about to balk and not ride on toward the home of the man who was to be her husband within a few hours.
Perhaps many of our readers will not care for these things which are so largely personal with the writer. But we would like to have them preserved in print and hope to continue them in future articles.